When Orkhan in the Cage had fantasised about life outside its walls, he had had no idea that the reality would be so strange. Together with Anadil, he passed through the outer reception room and emerged into daylight once more. The Valide Sultan, dressed in heavy black and red brocade and flanked by attendant concubines and eunuchs, stood waiting on the grass. This was the first time that Orkhan had seen her when she was not laughing. She stepped forward to brush at his hair with an anxious gesture. Then she embraced him, before pulling back a little, so that her hands rested on his shoulders, and she began to address him,
‘Beloved son, this is your mother’s proudest day of her life. Beloved son, you are now only a few moments away from encountering your betrothed and consummating the marriage which for so many years I have been dreaming of for a child of mine.’
Although the Valide Sultan faced Orkhan directly, she did not seem to see him. She was gazing into the past, staring at it with such intensity that she seemed to see everything that had vanished so many years ago in perfect detail.
‘I was born in the Harem,’ she continued. ‘And I have spent all my life within its walls. I remember that, when I was little, I had a toy model of the Harem, perfect in every detail, to play with. I used to put my dolls in it and have them play at harems, for of course I knew of no other world. I used to arrange weddings and wedding-feasts for my dolls within its tiny rooms. But there was one particular doll, which was an especial favourite of mine, whom I could not marry off for a long time. This was because I could not think of a bride who should be noble enough, rich enough and beautiful enough to become the wife of my favourite doll. Then one day I was inspired and decided that he could marry the Divinity and then there could be the grandest of all wedding feasts for such a mystic marriage.’
She sighed, reluctant to leave her memories,
‘That was long ago and all in play. Yet what the child dreamed of in play has come to fruit in reality today. For Orkhan, beloved son of mine, I have betrothed you to the Divinity. Even now the Goddess is hastening to your bed. Listen!’
Orkhan, listening, heard nothing save his mother’s stertorous breathing.
‘She is close! Very close!’ the Valide Sultan insisted. ‘Just now She is like a gentle breeze stirring in the tops of the trees. Then, when She comes to you, She will be like a forest fire and, finally, when you consummate your love you will be swept up in the flaming cyclone of Her embrace — or so it may seem to you. But who can describe congress with the Infinite? Here I am, an ordinary mortal, and I am trying to tell you in words about something for which there can be no words.’
Now the Valide Sultan really did look at Orkhan and her voice hardened,
‘I see from your eyes that you are afraid. Do not be so. You are only a day out of the Cage and you have already enjoyed several women. Yet the delights you have experienced with them will come to seem as nothing when the Goddess comes to your bed. You will look back on your first fumbling explorations of sex with women and, by comparison with what you have since experienced, it will seem to you that you were then fucking creatures no more substantial than shadows. Foolish people think that the ultimate mystery of life resides in the spirit. The wise know that it is found nowhere save in the flesh. The Goddess who is even now beginning to spread Her mighty thighs is the fleshly incarnation of ultimate love and all other women are merely the ghostly and reflected images of Her infinitely voluptuous body. She is robed in oceans and sunsets. But she will strip herself for you. Do you not like the firm breasts of young women? The Goddess has breasts which are larger than mountains.’
‘I will try to describe the fierce delight of being in bed with her. Your hair will stand on end and your eyeballs will pop out of their sockets and you will bite your tongue and she will crack your spine in her embrace and that will only be the beginning of it. Death is the bed on which the lover joins the Beloved. Yet, I promise you, you will not want to resist, for She will seem to you dearer than life itself, and you will yearn only to be melted in Her flames. As you melt with desire, you will experience yourself in a state of liquefaction and it will seem to you that your whole body is being melted into semen, until you are ejaculated out of your own penis in a paradox of ecstasy. Orgasm comes as a flash of white lightning filling the dark horizon of the soul. In a single love-bite the Goddess will devour you, so that you are She and She you, so that you will find yourself shafting yourself.’
The Valide Sultan paused, lost in this vision, before resuming in a steadier voice,
‘After you have been bedded by the Goddess, you will see Her in all other women and experience infinite rapture with them as often as you choose. This is what it means to become the Golden Man and it will be proved when you take Mihrimah to bed, for, after you have been bedded by the Goddess, then straightaway you will take Mihrimah as your second wife and embrace her, and it may be that with the Goddess’s favour Mihrimah will conceive. In such a manner, I shall become the grandmother of a child of the Divinity, something which I have yearned for since girlhood.’
‘Mother, I am not ready for this honour. I think that I need more time for preparation. I should like some time to think about my duties as a bridegroom.’
She smiled reassuringly,
‘I only wish I was a man so that I could take the Goddess to bed. If only I could make you understand how it will be, then you would certainly not still be standing here talking to an old woman like me, for you would be rushing to the bridal chamber, anxious not to delay your meeting with the Beloved by a single minute. You are young and healthy and Anadil, Mihrimah and Roxelana are all good girls. They are appointed handmaidens of the Goddess and they have made you as ready as you will ever be. I know that you are not going to disappoint me, as Barak did. The Goddess made the world in order to be loved by it, so you cannot help but love her when she comes for you. But I should not stand here prattling away like someone who has lost her wits. I will leave Mihrimah here to describe the precise manner of your love-making with the Divinity and what you must do to please your bride. I will now hurry away to the Porcelain Pavilion, where my girls are even now preparing a post-nuptial feast. Beloved son, I will be waiting for you there and anxiously hoping to hear of your emergence from the Chamber of Rapture.’
With that she abruptly kissed Orkhan on the brow and walked away.
Now Mihrimah and Anadil came close to him and Mihrimah began to speak in a low muffled voice,
‘Now you know that your mother glories in the fact that it is one of her sons who is about to become the Golden Man. It now falls upon me to explain the sequence of actions to be followed when we return to the Rapturous Chamber.’
She paused to check that she had all his attention, before insisting,
‘It is most important that you should be fully aware of what you are about to undergo.’
‘It is better to know what is going to happen,’ chimed in Anadil, ‘for the unknown is always frightening, is it not?’
And Mihrimah resumed her speech,
‘This is how it will happen. There will be just the four of us — you, me, Anadil and, of course, Roxelana, for she is one of the strongest of the concubines. Together we four will enter the Rapturous Chamber. We will undress you, and you will assist in my undressing. Next, as you stand in contemplation of me in my lustrous nakedness, Anadil will take your cock in her mouth. Then swiftly — it must be very swift — Roxelana will produce the silken bowstring and throttle you. You will then ejaculate in the ecstasy of the Death of the Just Man and, in so doing, experience the Holy Rapture, which is the gift of the Goddess. Yet you will be dead for an instant only, for Anadil will have collected in her mouth all your semen, which contains the departing life force, and she will swiftly deliver your semen back to you in a loving kiss. Now the dead man drinks of the dead man’s seed and chokes and shudders back into life once more. Thus you will be awakened by the Kiss of Death and so resurrected to a state of perpetual bliss, as the Holy Rapture fills every particle of your body for ever and ever. You will not be as before, for you will have become the Golden Man and the Goddess will dwell within your body and you two will be joined together in a state of perpetual orgasm. Having died and been reborn, you will come to me on the Bed of Rapture which floats on the silver pool and, as you embrace me, I too shall be swept up in ecstasy and I will take your seed in my womb. It is all a tremendous and marvellous mystery.’
Then, seeing the expression on Orkhan’s face, she continued,
‘Do not worry. We know what to do. It is all in
‘It is true that things went wrong with Barak, but that was because he lost his nerve at the last moment and struggled, so that I could not keep my mouth round his cock, and thus his seed was wasted on the floor. But, if you do not struggle, all shall be well. You have had enough wine though. I think I gave you just the right amount to drink and you should be relaxed.’
‘You have to lose yourself completely to find yourself, according to
‘Well, I do not really understand such matters,’ replied Orkhan. ‘But I have had enough of talk and I see no path open to me, save the one which leads to the Rapturous Chamber. I suppose the sooner that I reach my predestined end the better it will be for me.’
Hearing this, Mihrimah raised her arms and the concubines and eunuchs who stood outside the hammam began to sing a strange song, which began with the words ‘I have drunk the waters of the Beloved and She has drunk from mine.’
Emerald pointed back to the door of the hammam and Orkhan began to walk towards it. As he did so, concubine after concubine threw herself in front of him, so that he trod upon the spines of Gulanar, Najma, Parvana and others whose names he did not know. He was walking upon a carpet of human flesh. Nevertheless, Orkhan did not glance at the backs of the women he trod upon but instead looked up at the sky overhead.
Passing through the ante-room, Orkhan led them back into the Rapturous Chamber. Anadil and Roxelana stripped him of his white robe and tossed it into the pool. It rested on the bubbling surface a few moments, before abruptly vanishing. Multiple reflections of gold and silver on silver made Orkhan dizzy. Mihrimah waited on the far side of the pool, until he was ready to assist in her undressing. His fingers trembled as he set to work removing the layers of cloth and she had to tell him not to be in such a hurry.
She smiled at what she took to be his lustful impatience,
‘In desiring my body, you have learned to love the transient and that is a good and necessary stage. But it is a stage that you must pass beyond, for, in the end, only the Devil loves what is passing.’
Finally, Mihrimah’s white robe, veil and shawl lay at her ankles and she stood naked and very beautiful. However, he was not suffered to linger at her side. Anadil beckoned him back to the other side of the pool. Beside her stood Roxelana, resplendent in her silver dress. In one hand Roxelana held up the train of the dress, in the other she dangled the silken bowstring.
‘Turn to face Mihrimah,’ she said as Orkhan walked towards her.
He did so and Anadil knelt in front of him and reached for his cock, which fear had made small and soft.
‘Do not worry,’ said Anadil. ‘It becomes hard in an instant.’
And she pressed her lips to it.
‘Look to the lustrous Mihrimah,’ said Roxelana, who now stood directly behind him.
Mihrimah stood at the far end of the chamber, radiant and glorying in her nakedness.
Orkhan sensed rather than saw Roxelana stretching to raise the silken bowstring above his head. She began to speak,
‘In the name of the Holy Rapture — ’
As the cord came over his head, Orkhan reached for it and pulled hard. At the same time he bent double, so that Roxelana was pulled onto his back. Then he had her by her wrists and brought her over him and down on top of the kneeling Anadil, and together the two women were sent tumbling into the quicksilver pool. Its momentarily turbulent surface closed over their heads in interlinked rippling whorls. Glittering bubbles rose and exploded.
Next Orkhan went after Mihrimah. She attempted to escape by running round the far side of the pool, but she was less agile than Parvana, Najma and Gulanar had earlier proved themselves, and Orkhan, having caught her at the door, swiftly had his arms round her throat.
‘Is there a way from here to the laundry?’
Her voice was wheezy in reply,
‘The laundry? Yes, if you go back to the tepidarium. I think there is a passage from there to the laundry. The slaves use it to fetch fresh towels.’
‘You are going to take me there.’
The handful of the women lying cooling in the tepidarium did not give them a second glance. Orkhan walked behind Mihrimah with his hands encircling her throat down the passageway which led out of the tepidarium and through a series of doors into the laundry. They entered the hall full of vats that Orkhan had previously glimpsed on his way to the hammam and, as they did so, the women who worked there started shrieking and throwing up their hands. Perizade, who seemed to be their overseer, came hurrying up to deal with this bizarre intrusion.
‘Perizade, I need your help. I need you. Together we are going to try and escape from the Harem.’
‘It is death to even think of such a thing,’ she replied.
Even so she did not hesitate. First, she dismissed the other laundry-women from the hall of vats. Secondly, she began to tear up strips of cloth and together she and Orkhan set to gagging and tying up Mihrimah. They were not kind to her and, despite her moist, pleading eyes, their knots were tight and the cloths bit deep into her soft flesh. She was bound in such a fashion that her face was pressed down over her knees with her arms tied behind her back.
Orkhan was bent low over Mihrimah, checking the knots when he was knocked over, by a cracking blow to the side of his face. He rolled over and looked up. It was Roxelana. Her eyes glittered and her face had a curious greyish look about it. Tiny drops of silver fell from her dress with every movement.
‘I now know that I was too gentle the last time,’ she said. ‘This time it is going to be really bloody. The jinns in me are parched for your blood. They are going to suck your soul out through your arse.’
She hitched her dress to deliver a kick, but, even so, her kick was constrained and had little force. She was panting heavily and she seemed to be having difficulty in seeing Orkhan. Nevertheless, she threw herself upon him and began to pound at him with her fists. He fought back, yet not as strongly as he should have done, for he felt himself unmanned, half-mesmerised by this strange, lead-grey creature, more demon than woman, who chanted in a strange language as she beat at his chest and face. She was trying to kill him, yet still he felt the stirring of desire and he wanted to kiss her even as they fought. Then suddenly it was as if one of the jinns in her body had made away for another. The glittering eyes softened and she fell forward on him.
‘I am too weak to resist you. I want you inside me,’ her voice was pleading.
Her mouth was questing for his and with one of her hands she was seeking to hoick her skirt further up.
‘You want it too. Just a little soft, lingering kiss will be enough… ’
She pressed her mouth hard against his.
It was Perizade who brought this perilous seduction to an end as she came up from behind and swung a laundry paddle at the back of Roxelana’s head, so that the brilliant eyes went suddenly dull.
‘We need her dress,’ said Perizade. ‘Get her dress off her.’
This was not easy, for the dress was tight and Roxelana was heavy. As they struggled with the limp body and clinging fabric, Perizade explained that though the concubines were confined to the Harem, their servants were not. The latter were often sent out into the city on errands. Orkhan’s only chance of escaping the Harem alive was to be disguised as a woman in Perizade’s company.
Leaving Orkhan to struggle into the dress, Perizade went off to look for shawls to cover his head and shoulders. Orkhan had managed by wriggling to get the dress half way up his hips when he heard a rasping voice behind him,
‘That is my dress you have on and I want it back.’
Roxelana staggered towards him. By now her skin had turned deep black and her eyeballs seemed to have shrivelled in their sockets.
‘Oh my prince!’ she continued throatily. ‘Just one dying kiss. That is all we need to consummate our love. Just one little kiss.’
She seemed to sniff her way towards him. She put her arms around him and stuck out her tongue. It was like a twig of charred wood. She coughed and a gob of mercury appeared on her lower lip and swiftly ran down her chin. Then she loosened her clasp round Orkhan’s neck and slowly sank to die at his feet.
Perizade reappeared with plain white shawls. She did not give the corpse of Roxelana so much as a glance. One shawl covered Orkhan’s shoulders, the other went over his head and he held it together across his face with his teeth. Together they walked out of the laundry and they passed by the Valide Sultan, who was anxiously pacing about in the garden. They were detained for a while by the Janissary guards at the gate out of the Inner Court. Perizade explained to one of the soldiers that the furnaces which served the hammam and laundry were about to run out of firewood and that they were being sent on a mission to hurry up the next delivery.
While they waited for the young Janissary to return from consulting with his officer, Perizade turned and whispered to Orkhan,
‘Why did you come to me?’
‘It was as you said. We are destined to be together. I am destined to love you and I do. I need you — and, besides my viper needs to drink at your tavern. It is a hopeless addiction.’
‘That viper and tavern stuff!’ Perizade laughed. ‘That’s just Harem folklore. It is merely one of the stories made up by Afsana and the other concubines. You must just like the taste, that’s all!’
The Janissary returned and indicated that they might walk on. So they passed through the Gate of the Inner Court into the Outer Court, which was open to the public. The real world of old and young men and women, children and animals, carts, traps, sacking, planks, bales, barrels, hides, bottles, lanterns and knives seemed to explode before Orkhan’s eyes. He had left the tainted fairyland of silk, silver and porphyry forever.
Under assumed names, Orkhan and Perizade found work in the city. They prospered and, after only a few years, they set up a laundry of their own in the village of Eyup beyond the walls of Istanbul and there they continued to dwell in contentment until they were overtaken by Death, the breaker of bonds and destroyer of delights.